Louisiana Comp Blog’s new “Women in Comp” series highlights the role of women in the workers’ comp industry in Louisiana. These exceptional business leaders will discuss their careers and backgrounds, plus explore what it means to be female in the insurance world.
This month we spoke with Stephanie Ragsdale, Director of Workers’ Compensation and Risk at HSLI, based in Baton Rouge.
Comp Blog: What’s your personal background? Did you grow up in Louisiana?
Ragsdale: I’m a transplant. I grew up in Georgia and went to the University of Georgia, so I’m a bulldog! I graduated with a Risk Management and Insurance degree from the University of Georgia, which is a very well-respected program. The weight of the wedding band is what brought me to Louisiana, my husband took his dream job here. And dream jobs change, especially once we had our first child, but we stayed. We moved to Prairieville coming right out of the gate because my brother in law also lives here so he had recommended the area to us and we wanted to be close to family.
Comp Blog: Could you elaborate on the Risk Management program at Georgia? It seems like a very specific field of study that you chose at a young age.
Ragsdale: The RMI program at UGA is one of the top ranked programs in the nation and has the largest undergraduate program of it’s kind. In 1996 when I graduated, the program offered classes and education in virtually every aspect of the industry.
Comp Blog: So after graduation what was the next step for you?
Ragsdale: I got hired by AIG before I ever even graduated. I started working and they actually flew me back for my graduation. [AIG] and other Fortune 500 companies would participate in annual RMI career day job fairs at the University. I probably had fifteen or twenty interviews over the course of those events, a lot of huge companies would come to Georgia to recruit for various fields in the insurance industry. AIG recruited me and I participated in a training program which was about six weeks long in Parsippany, New Jersey, and then I was relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I actually started handling workers’ compensation claim files.
Comp Blog: So what position did you start at post-grad?
Ragsdale: I took adjusting because I found it fascinating. No two days are ever the same! I enjoyed the investigation part of claims and being a detective when compensability was questionable. Claims handling is sometimes like a chess match and you have to anticipate what the next move will be. I liked the strategy planning that was involved with claims handling.
Comp Blog: So the investigation aspect was your favorite element?
Ragsdale: Yes, definitely. Following hunches good, bad or indifferent; and I really just enjoyed getting to know people. Injury aside, all injured workers are people first. It’s all about helping them through the process: paying what’s owed and denying what isn’t. Honestly, I felt like I was doing a service to them and that made me feel good.
Comp Blog: Around the workers’ comp industry we hear a lot about the handful of bad claimants and there’s a tendency to get jaded. Could you comment on that?
Ragsdale: That does happen for sure, being an adjuster can be a thankless job! But, it can also be very rewarding. When you get that Christmas card from somebody that you helped earlier in the year and knowing that you made a difference for that person is a wonderful feeling.
There are very few people that realize all of the different hats that an adjuster has to wear. On the face of it, you’re an adjuster of the claim, but then you take on the role of financial planner, sometimes you’re a marriage counselor, social worker – all of those different job responsibilities come into play.
Comp Blog: So you mentioned starting at AIG, where did you go after that, can you give me a trajectory?
Ragsdale: Well, here’s the thing with workers’ comp: it seems like once you get in it you can never get out! It becomes the heart and the soul of who you are in your career. So I started with AIG and relocated to Charlotte for that job. It was a brand-new office that they opened. I then went back to Georgia to get married and wound up changing jobs and doing Second Injury Fund work. Although it wasn’t the same work as adjusting, I found it to be very rewarding to meet my clients’ expectations. I was the Operations Manager and in charge of reimbursements. I did that for four or five years and that’s when we relocated to Louisiana. Then, I was a risk manager for a large staffing service as well as a self-insured fund in the state until I made the career change to HSLI.
Comp Blog: I’d like to get your thoughts about Louisiana’s workers’ comp system as a whole. What problems do you see and how would you fix them?
Ragsdale: There are certainly a few things about the system that I would like to see changed, starting with the court system. I think it is extremely unfortunate that we have to make decisions based on jurisdiction. The statute should be interpreted the same way across the board and unfortunately, it isn’t, so we have to consider where [a litigated claim] is going to be heard and the history in that district.
Additionally, the paperwork is overwhelming and the expense associated with all of the extraneous paperwork is overwhelming.
It seems like a lot of decisions are made at a level that doesn’t take the people in the trenches into account. And because it’s so cumbersome, I’m afraid that adjusters will lose sight of what their real job is and become just clerical.
Comp Blog: Do you have any thoughts for the decision-makers that be then?
Ragsdale: Well I don’t think many of them have a true adjusting background unfortunately. They’re flying at 60,000 feet, and they get their information from people flying at 30,000 feet but nobody is talking to the person that’s on the ground. As a result, there’s a lot of misconceptions that play out as information is relayed, information becomes inaccurate and we lose the picture of what we’re trying to accomplish with reform. We change rules and regulations on a dime based on what one doctor said in a meeting of higher ups. There’s a person behind the paper on both the injured worker side and the adjuster side.
In a perfect world, every adjuster would have a full time clerical assistant, because that is truly the amount of paperwork that is required to accomplish the job now. We’ve streamlined a lot of processes within our organization here at HSLI which has made the paperwork manageable but I know that there’s going to be more changes coming and so you just have to fasten your seatbelt and just know that it is going to be a bumpy ride but we’ll come out alright on the other end.
Comp Blog: Right so, just because a process is delineated in the law, doesn’t mean that everything just happens automatically. In the same vein of adjusting, do you see any particular problems on the medical side that you’d like to address?
Ragsdale: The outpatient costs are astronomical but, on the flip side, our inpatient costs are way below industry average. There has to be some kind of compromise and I think that’s the part that needs to be worked through. Back in the day, an arthroscopic surgery would cost about $12,000, and now, depending on where it is in the state, it could cost up to $36,000. And when you’re paying ninety percent of that, because of the financial incentive to do an outpatient surgery, it’s scary. It makes reserving more difficult on files. It’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Comp Blog: In other cost containment issues, how would you feel about a drug formulary of the variety that they use in Texas?
Ragsdale: I hope a formulary is coming up! That would definitely save a lot of paperwork and limit pre-certification requirements which are time consuming and can become expensive. I think it would be very beneficial for our state to impose a formulary which would adhere to the Medical Treatment Guidelines as well as reduce opioid and long term narcotic use.
Comp Blog: So what’s the verdict for you on the Medical Treatment Guidelines and their implementation, now that we are a couple of years down the road?
Ragsdale: I actually think our Medical Treatment Guidelines are great but they certainly are not all-encompassing and ODG has a lot of really great material and research. State guidelines can get stale but I welcome any guidance on treatment that is supported with research. The biggest issue I see with the Medical Treatment Guidelines is that they do not take comorbidities into consideration and therefore proposed procedures and treatment may be indicated but will likely be unsuccessful due to conditions like obesity and diabetes.
Comp Blog: Getting back to you, what does a typical day look like?
Ragsdale: I am fortunate in that every day is different for me. I try to have a to-do list but it usually just gets longer and longer! A typical day for me overall though is looking at our processes and procedures [here at HSLI] and trying to become more efficient, while making sure that all of our responsibilities to our members and our clients are fulfilled. I also do a lot of strategizing and overall program evaluations. And since we can’t change all the paperwork, we focus on risk management to ensure that those claims never happen in the first place.
Comp Blog: As HSLI is primarily involved in the health care industry, do you have any thoughts about the Ebola epidemic that is still sort of ongoing?
Ragsdale: The scare certainly had an impact on us. You never know how prepared you are for such a thing until it happens. I think we all learned a lot from the hospital in Dallas and we were able to take that information in addition to the training and educational materials provided by the CDC to do things differently going forward. If it comes back, I think our hospitals are much more prepared now than they were back in October.
Comp Blog: Are there a few words that sum up your professional philosophy?
Ragsdale: I love working, always have. I could never be a stay at home mom, and I know that is also work, but there is something that fulfills me personally when I’m able to come here every day and make my organization run better and provide resources to my staff. That’s something that I need. Not everybody is driven by that, but that’s something I definitely need.
Do I struggle balancing my professional and personal life? Absolutely. But, I have two children and a husband and parents that are very supportive of me, and I am eternally grateful for that.
Comp Blog: Being a mother, do you see similarities between the teamwork that you participate in within a family and that which exists in the workplace?
Ragsdale: Yes, it’s teamwork all the way around. I’m thankful that I am part of an organization that is accommodating, and encourages family, and that embraces life outside the office walls. Your babies are only babies for so long, and I’ve never missed an awards ceremony or anything because of that culture here.
Comp Blog: Given that flexibility in your own organization and the attraction it poses for millennials, which will soon be the largest generation in the nation, do you have any thoughts about how the industry need to recruit these young minds?
Ragsdale: One of my greatest fears is that there are no new adjusters coming in to replenish the workforce. Back when I started at AIG, they had AIG University which was a six or eight week long program up in New Jersey. I learned every single thing about adjusting that I needed, all of the fundamentals. Of course, when money gets tight and budgets get cut, the training program is the first thing to go. Adjusting is not an attractive job to people coming out of school, there’s no exposure now. We have to figure out how to bring the sexy back for millennials, the insurance industry is usually a couple of steps behind everyone else and resistant to change. I think we are starting to turn the boat though. Also, we do need to stop cutting funding to higher ed at the state level. We need these graduates from LSU and to keep talent in Louisiana!
Comp Blog: On a lighter note, do you have any hobbies either personal or professional?
Ragsdale: I love to paint. That is my outlet and gives me an opportunity to check out for a bit and it’s something to look forward to. I paint with my mom and it gives us some quality time together. I actually painted the pieces in my office. And I also love to read, whether it’s professional articles or James Patterson. I love a good murder mystery! Of course, spending time with my kids is a big part of my free time, we love to fish and be around friends and family.
Comp Blog: So we touched on this before in discussing family-positive culture within office environments but, do you feel that being a woman in a male dominated industry has affected you?
Ragsdale: My CEO and my CFO are both females, so truthfully, I have not experienced any kind of glass ceiling or anything like that. I have thrived here at HSLI and I’m hoping my future holds some really bright things. I feel like I’ve been treated very fairly thus far. I think insurance is a really diverse industry anyway, it takes all kinds and so we employ all kinds.
Comp Blog: In conclusion then, where do you see your career going in the next five or ten years?
Ragsdale: Well, I’m sure I’ll be in workers’ comp! I love what I do and want to continue to learn more. I’ve been in the insurance industry for almost 20 years and I still try to learn something new every day. I want to work to make my organization an industry leader and I want nothing more than to be a part of that.